In Faith For Exiles, authors David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock write, “Digital tools, devices, and content drive our perceptions and experiences of reality. They offer an illusion of total control and a mirage of complete access to the world. As Andy Crouch writes in The Tech-Wise Family, technology makes things easy everywhere” (19). Yet “instant access to information is not wisdom.” Rather it makes us think we know much more than we do. People who we barely know become unbelievably popular and meaningful to us simply because they post a new YouTube video every day.
In fact, Alisa Childers has recently written an article called “Let’s Deconstruct a Deconversion Story” about the deconversaions of Rhett and Link. She writes about “pastors who reported that the faith of several kids in their youth groups was rocked by the broadcasts, leaving them shaken and doubting.” She gives an example of Rhett who said that he had read every book by Ravi Zacharias and found them uncompelling, Childers writes, “The church kid probably won’t even bother with more than 30 books, containing decades worth of complex and carefully thought-out arguments that have been tested by time, debate, and rigorous scholarship. Now, the debate stops at Rhett’s conclusions.” What has the digital age done to us? What is “Digital Babylon”?
Digital Babylon; Screen Disciples
The authors (see Lagniappe below) write that digital Babylon “is not a physical place. It is the pagan-but-spiritual, hyperstimulated, multicultural, imperial crossroads that is the virtual home of every person with Wi-Fi, a data plan, or—for most of us—both.” Here “in digital Babylon… information (and any thing we could ever want or need) is instantly available at the godlike swipe of a finger, Almighty God has been squeezed to the margins. Those of us who long to keep him at the center of our lives constantly fight the centrifugal force of a world spinning us away from him” (20). Who needs God when it’s nearly impossible for me to runout of Cheetos (thanks, Amazon)?
The problem with digital Babylon is that it screens disciples (25). We are in a cultural exile. The culture we live in today is not a Christian one. So what can we be doing to counter-act the screens’ discipling? Besides reading Crouch The Tech-Wise Family and Vanhoozer’s Hearers and Doers, the authors propose a goal: “to develop Jesus followers who are resiliently faithful in the face of cultural coercion and who live in a vibrant life in the Spirit” (30).
There are four kinds of exiles:
- Habitual Churchgoers
- Resilient Disciples
And, with help from the Barna Group, there are five practices of resilient faith (34):
- To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus.
- In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment.
- When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships.
- To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.
- Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission.
Cultural discernment is necessary because there is no question about if your kids (or you) will have doubts but when will they have doubts. The culture is feeding them an entirely different narrative. Jared Lanier, a Microsoft researcher, admits that social media is “continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them…. It’s a bad religion” (79).
As well, people need places where they/we can express and talk through their (our) doubts (137). The Bible says one thing, but reality seems like another. Young people (all people, really) need the room to be able to ask Why? Why does the Bible say this? How can this be? Why doesn’t life look like this? What am I missing? And for others to help explain humbly what the Bible says. The church is meant to be a safe haven while we are in exile. The authors write, “The church can help fill a massive gap in our society: the desire to be loved, to be acknowledged for more than what we produce, to be known” (124).
We can disciple others, especially young people, to want to proclaim God’s relational presence in any job. One does not have to be a pastor or elder to be doing God’s will. One can work in almost any kind of job, but by serving the Lord faithfully they can make a difference right where they are at.
We need people who can work productively and brilliantly, people who can discern culture, people who can “develop the muscles of sacrifice and service” that makes Jesus look bigger (185). We need people who don’t need to be in the limelight and can faithfully work behind the scenes shaping minds and hearts.
The authors emphasize both the importance of the next generation and of the church. The church is always one generation from dying, and the next generation is important. But who will train them? The church. The church needs to have not only good doctrine but love and grace for each other. The authors don’t lay out a “how-to” manual on discipleship and mentoring, because there isn’t one. Each of us is uniquely gifted and connect with different people in different ways. A relationship grows through mentoring. One learns from another about life wisdom seen through the lens of Jesus. How does one live a life that reflects Jesus to everyone around him or her? Faith For Exiles will help encourage you to disciple others and to see that if the church doesn’t disciple, the culture, especially the digital culture, will.
- Authors: David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock
- David Kinnaman is the president of Barna Group.
- Mark Matlock is the president of WisdomWorks.
- Hardcover: 230 pages
- Publisher: Baker Books (September 3, 2019)
- Sample: Read the Introduction
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